The East Village is not the Lower East Side. While the East Village had an intensely gritty image until recently, it’s relatively pleasant to walk around now with only the rare pocket of not-like-new New York. The LES feels a bit rougher around the edges, it’s not quite as polished and, while there are certainly spades of cool things going on there, it’s not quite as inviting as the East Village.
One of my favorite East Village stories is my father’s arrival in the area for college. His parents drove him up and helped him move into his St. Marks-adjacent apartment when the East Village was still somewhere that you’d be wiser to avoid. The already intense emotion of leaving your (only) child at the start of university coupled with the dodgy neighborhood is terrifyingly hysterical. Of course, parents probably still cry when dropping their kids off at university in the neighborhood, but they’re probably sobbing at the rent prices instead of the location.
The East Village’s boundaries are hard to define. Does it stop at 14th? At what avenue does it begin? Could East Houston mark the end? Yet, when you’re walking around the East Village, you know you’re walking around the East Village.
There are plenty of New York gems over there with an ineffable New York quality that’s now lost in places like Soho and Greenwich Village. Maybe it’s the tall stoops, narrow streets or unique shops, but the East Village really does feel like an enclave of the New York essence.
People come to the East Village for all sorts of reasons, but it’s one of those resolutely New York areas. The locals out number the tourists and, except for late nights and gorgeous weekend days, the streets are rarely packed. You can find a cheap slice of pizza or a gourmet meal on the same block.
The East Village is one of those neighborhoods that doesn’t hint at being New York, but screams it loud and proud.
What creates the essence of a neighborhood for you?